Whole Home Wi-Fi (also known as mesh networking) is the big trend in in-home Internet connectivity this year. Spreading out the connection you’re paying for can get a boost from a whole home Wi-Fi system that acts less as an extension and more like a true net. The benefits include: eliminating “dead zones” around the home; and enabling flexible, simple parental controls and device management.

On its own, mesh networking isn’t a radically new technology, but rather a step up from what has been done before. Until now, Wi-Fi extenders and bridges were the key options to extending the signal from the router to parts of the home that were either slow or flat out dead zones. Powerline adapters were another alternative to enable a wired connection in different rooms. One adapter would be plugged in near the router, while the other to the device in a different room, with Ethernet cables plugged in on both sides, thereby routing the Internet through the home’s power grid.

How Whole Home Wi-Fi spreads its net

Whole home Wi-Fi uses multiple devices where one connects to your internet source, then it communicates with satellite units, or nodes, in a full circle that goes every which way to establish a wide net throughout your home.

Wi-Fi extenders are different in a few ways. First, they extend the router’s signal, but are generally under-powered compared to the router, so signal usually fades as you get further from the router. Second, the extension is one-way, meaning it goes to the extender and funnels out, but doesn’t loop back to the router in any way. Third, while more recent extenders now make the “hand-off” easier, they largely require a different login and password to gain and maintain access; they act more like multiple networks than a single home internet.

linksys-velop-main

A whole home Wi-Fi system, on the other hand, is basically two or three fully functioning routers spread out in your home. For example, you might put one on the main floor and one on the upstairs floor. Moreover, each device communicates with the others in your home, casting a net that is all part of one home network.

They are ideal for houses, large ones and even modest homes that have thicker walls and other obstacles impacting range and speed. Thicker walls, multiple floors, staircases, other wireless devices or appliances, can all reduce the effectiveness of a single router. If you find that a good solo router can’t cover your whole home, then look for a whole home Wi-Fi system to solve your connection issues.

Perhaps your home has some weak spots in your internet signal causing buffering of streaming movies, or simply making downloads very slow. For example, if you’re paying for 100Mbps download speed from your Internet Service Provider (ISP), but find you’re getting something like 15-20Mbps in a room far from the router, you will find an instant benefit by switching to a whole home Wi-Fi system. By increasing the range to better cover that room, a mesh system could ramp up the speed in that room considerably, making it seem like your ISP boosted the performance of the whole network.

‘Meshing’ technology together

velop-portsThe nodes that make up a mesh network also offer some flexibility in connections. Since they are the same, they all have at least one LAN port that can be used for wired connections. If a node was close enough to, say, a game console or streaming set top box, you could connect that device directly to a node for enhanced performance. Hence, you have a stronger wireless signal AND wired input in different points of your home.

A lot of the legwork to maintain all this is done behind the scenes, so you never have to be concerned about exactly which node you’re connected to when sitting in between two of them. Signal amplification isn’t something that has to be turned on manually—it’s already inherent in the system itself; each of the nodes is like a router, so they blast out the signal equally.

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NETGEAR Orbi Mesh Whole-Home Wi-Fi System

Part of the reason for that is power and efficiency. Some of the technology first introduced in solo routers applies here. MU-MIMO (multi-user, multi-input, multi-output) funnels bandwidth to devices who need it at the same time, instead of one at a time. If that surprises you, it’s true, though you weren’t likely to notice unless you came across lag or buffering. The one catch is that the connected device has to support MU-MIMO too, of which many are expected to this year.

App based parental controls

Then there’s the app-based setup and management. The Orbi uses a browser-based dashboard for that, whereas the Velop and others also utilize a smartphone app—though you might get more advanced features through a browser. Since much of the ‘talking’ between the router and the nodes happens in the background, the setup is designed to be easy enough for any tech skill level. You won’t feel lost going through these step-by-step guides.

And the apps put a lot of control at your fingertips. Most allow you to choose which devices have access to the network, and even create schedules for each device. Parents will love that they can set their child’s tablet or smartphone to only connect to the internet during specific times of the day. In addition, parents can restrict specific devices to only certain websites, ensuring their children are only accessing parent approved areas of the internet.

You can even check in on the network when you’re not at home, simply by logging in to your account through the app or browser and accessing features like you would as an administrator at home.

A whole home Wi-Fi system may seem like overkill for a condo or smaller sub-1,000 sq. ft. space, but the added control it delivers over the home network make it useful for anyone.

Check out the latest mesh Wi-Fi systems available. Here are some of the top products to choose from:

 

Google Wifi TP-Link Deco Linksys Velop NETGEAR Orbi
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Editor Cellular/Mobile Technology
I’m a fortunate man in being able to do the fun job of following and reporting on one of the most exciting industries in the world today. In my time covering consumer tech, I’ve written for a number of publications, including the Globe and Mail, Yahoo! Canada, CBC.ca, Canoe, Digital Trends, MobileSyrup, G4 Tech, PC World, Faze and AppStorm. I’ve also appeared on TV as a tech expert for Global, CTV and the Shopping Channel.

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